Point of Action, an installation by multidisciplinary New York-based design practice Studio Cooke John, was unveiled in the flesh last week by the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership and Van Alen Institute as this year’s Flatiron Public Plaza Design Installation. Comprised of nine metal-framed “spotlights” that invite “New Yorkers and visitors to contemplate the experience of seeing one another—and being seen,” Point of Action is open to the public daily at the Flatiron Public Plazas through January 1.
James Mettham, executive director of the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership, described the installation as one that “beautifully meets our city’s current moment of uncertainty, provoking us to think not only about our interconnectedness with one another, but the role of our public spaces in creating connected, healthy, and resilient communities as we look toward collective recovery.”
Since its inaugural seasonal in 2014, the annual Flatiron Public Plaza Design Installation has sought to add visibility to a bustling, destination retail-heavy patch of Manhattan during the winter holidays. By activating an iconic public space with ephemeral installations that showcase the work of emerging designers, it’s the hope that pedestrians–perhaps extra harried and distracted this year—will slow down to engage and interact with the urban built environment and each other. Situated opposite Madison Square Park at the intersection of Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and 23rd Street, the Plazas were established by the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) in 2008.
As with installations past, Point of Action, which was revealed as the seventh annual installation in October, similarly creates a “highly visible landmark” for the pedestrian plazas with the added benefit of offering “the neighborhood continuity in uncertain times,” per the press release. Notably, the footprint of Point of Action is larger, spread out across both the north and south plazas to enable “more socially distanced engagement” during the coronavirus pandemic. Praising Studio Cooke John’s “highly interactive response in a time when our city is craving connection,” Wendy Feuer, assistant commissioner of Urban Design + Art + Wayfinding at the DOT, also noted that the expanded size of the plaza-spanning installation “strengthens the theme of connectivity and allows space for reflection.”
“Once the viewer steps out of their usual routine and into the installation’s threshold, there are multiple opportunities for connection with fellow viewers and with passersby,” detailed the press release. “Six-foot circles affixed onto the Flatiron Public Plazas create nine ‘spotlights,’ each with its own vertical metal frame. Ropes weave through each frame and part, like a curtain figuratively pulled aside, to make room for the viewer to take the spotlight, connect with other viewers across the Plazas, and take action as they move out and beyond. Lighting emitted from a halo above each circle strengthens the framing; lights embedded into the sides of each frame add another layer to the viewer.”
Despite the safe, pandemic-appropriate physical distance established by Point of Action, the “installation’s concentric circles ripple out from each spot, eventually connecting with other circles, and thus other viewers, across the Plazas,” added the release.
Deborah Marton, Van Alen Institute’s executive director, noted how Studio Cooke John’s winning design “powerfully captures the importance of building new connections and community, which are critical to our city’s resilience.”
Founded in 2018 by Jamaica-born architect and educator Nina Cooke John, Studio Cooke John was selected for the 2020 Flatiron Public Plaza Design Installation by the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership and Van Alen Institute from a shortlist of seven firms: Architensions, Austin + Mergold, Bryony Roberts Studio, Office Lou Arencibia, Studio Ijeoma, and runner-up Studio Zewde. The shortlist itself was generated via nominations provided by design experts within Van Alen’s network including Benjamin Cadena, founder of Studio Cadena; Justin Garrett Moore, executive director of the New York City Public Design Commission; Toni L. Griffin, founder of urbanAC; Nancy Hou & Josh De Sousa, founders of Hou de Sousa (and winners of competition-winning 2019 installation); Jing Liu, principal at SO-IL; V. Mitch McEwen, principal at Atelier Office; Ashley Mendelsohn, an architecture curator and educator; Leni Schwendinger, principal at Leni Schwendinger Light Projects LTD; and Jae Shin, partner at HECTOR.
Led by Nina Cooke John, the Point of Action project team also included fabricator Charlie Spademan of Spademan Fabrication, Braulio Duran of NY Lighting Group, lighting consultant Jimmie Drummond of Drummond Projects, and installation contractor Kathy Lysikowska-Diaz of KLD NY Inc. The installation will, as mentioned, be open to the public at the Flatiron Public Plazas through the end of the year.